FRISCO - The Atlanta Falcons will face the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at AtT&T Stadium, and the home team should be aware: the 4-4 Falcons have improved as the season has marched on in large part because of their defense.
"I know everybody wants immediate gratification,” Atlanta defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “Don't we all? But sometimes you gotta go through some growing pains."
"You've gotta stay the course."
Year over year, Atlanta has improved from 29th to 17th in total defense and from dead last in passing defense in 2020 to 13th after eight games in 2021.
The Falcons defense gave up over 400 yards twice in its first four games while only doing so once in its last four. It's no coincidence that Atlanta has flipped its record over that period from 1-3 to 3-1.
Fortunately for Dallas, yes, quarterback Dak Prescott says they are aware.
Said Dak: “They got two great linebackers. Deion Jones is fast. Got a great front up there with Grady Jarrett and they’re coming off a big win so they’re a confident group and we’re just making sure we’re coming in preparing and not being over confident and focusing on getting better.”
“Overconfidence” hasn’t been an Atlanta problem. (Maybe, Dak concedes, that very mindset was a Dallas issue in last week’s loss to Denver.)
But under Pees, Atlanta has made adjustments on the fly. Pees favors heavy pressure, blitzing and more … but early in the year, he cut back on that because his secondary wasn’t holding up.
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But now? Budding star cornerback A.J. Terrell's comfort level in this defense is high … and maybe the learning process under this new staff just took a little time.
"I just don't think everybody truly knew coming in how deep and complex our defense kinda is," said Pees. “It's a lot more than what people think. But if you keep doing it. ... it's just like anything. If you take four hard classes in college, it's going to be a tough semester. If you take one hard class and three easy ones, you just concentrate on the one."
Added Pees: “I think the whole defense as a whole has gotten better and better each week."
Atlanta recognizes it might have its biggest test yet in the Cowboys on Sunday. Dallas has the league's No. 1 offense and No. 4-ranked passing offense. The Cowboys are facing the Falcons without left tackle Tyron Smith, and the last time that happened, on Nov 12, 2017, defensive end Adrian Clayborn broke a franchise record with six sacks in a 27-7 victory over Dallas.
Surely the Cowboys will this time around offer immediate help to young tackle Terence Steele. And surely even though Atlanta enters the game an 8.5-point underdog on SI Sports Book, Dallas will not make the mistake of “overconfidence” … or of overlooking Atlanta’s developing defense.
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